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Jennifer Benz January 10, 2013 3 min read

Three reasons why 2013 will be the year for benefits communication

Benefits communication rarely gets the credit—or attention, or budget, or planning—it deserves. Despite well-documented empirical evidence of its impact and big-name thought leaders advocating for more meaningful investment in communication, it usually gets the short end of the stick. I’ve spent my whole career fighting for better budgets, more time spent on strategic planning and better integration with overall goals. For our clients, we’ve changed the dynamic, and communication is now a key part of their overall HR strategy. But for most benefits communication pros, fighting that battle is a right of passage that seems to never end.

I’m hopeful this will be the year we end that senseless battle. Here are three compelling reasons why 2013 will be the year of benefits communication!

Your benefit strategy will demand it

Prepare for 2014 health care reform requirements, evaluate level of benefits provided, determine the role of exchanges in health benefits strategy, ramp up health management efforts (aka wellness), consider new care delivery models. Those are Mercer’s widely quoted five biggest priorities for employer-sponsored health plans this year. And, guess what, every one of them demands effective—that’s robust and ongoing—communication. Health care benefits are not just about getting people insured—they are about motivating, providing incentives and enforcing the structure that will help create the radical behavior change we need to solve our country’s health issues.

Health care reform alone would be enough of a catalyst, and it is already getting plenty of mainstream media attention. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have a crisis in retirement readiness with only 53% of Americans currently saving for retirement and even fewer on their way to a secure financial future.

The challenges are big—and this is the year your strategy will demand communication like never before.

Your employees will demand it

Aggressive benefits programs only work if employees buy in. Wellness is gaining teeth with 22% of employers moving toward results-based programs and another 52% considering this approach. Deductibles are increasing as companies attempt to get their total plan cost in check and attain the ever-lofty goal of creating engaged consumers. Most Americans are being asked to do more with less and challenged to manage their day-to-day expenses.

With more and more requirements being placed on employees and family members—and as their financial worries grow—they are going to speak up and demand better resources. Our baseline recommendation—get your benefits info outside your firewall and onto the Internet—is only embraced by 38% of companies. Just 29% of companies communicate with employees year round. Despite the ubiquitous use of social media, only 10% of companies use it for benefits communication. And despite the growing number of mobile Internet users, only 28% of employers are using mobile tools of any kind to communicate benefits. (All stats from our Inside Benefits Communications Survey.)

We have to stop making excuses. Your employees deserve better—and, if they haven’t already, this will be the year they start demanding it.

Your executives will demand it 

Ok, that might be wishful thinking. It would be pretty rare to have your CEO and CFO specifically request a bigger investment in benefits communication (even with all our hints). But in 2013, more than in previous years, you will hear your C-suite asking questions like this:

  • Can we show an ROI on our investment in health benefits?
  • How do we lower our health spending while keeping turnover low?
  • What are we doing to make health care expenses more predictable?
  • How will we respond to reform without damaging employee morale?

We know you won’t have good answers to any of those questions without effective employee education and communication. And this is the year to ramp up those communication budgets and ask for more resources. A shocking 68% of companies are getting by on communication budgets of less than $25,000 a year. This is heartbreaking! With an investment of less than 1% of your total benefits spending, you can make a huge impact with communication.

We’ve said it again and again: We have an incredible opportunity to help solve some of our country’s biggest challenges—improving the health and financial security of all Americans. This is truly what benefits are all about! And you can’t do it without effective communication. Let 2013 be the year your benefits communication shines. Your employees need it. Their families need it. We all need it.

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.